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Malaria breakthrough could lead to revolutionary new cure

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by August 17, 2016 General

A major breakthrough could lead to a revolutionary new cure for one of the world’s deadliest diseases, according to new research.

Queensland scientists hope incredible results in mice will translate to a more effective treatment for malaria in humans, by recruiting the body’s own immune system to kill off the disease.

Mosquito-born malaria kills about 438,000 people a year. Mosquito-born malaria kills about 438,000 people a year. 

Malaria kills about 438,000 people a year, with almost half of the world’s population at risk of contracting the mosquito-borne virus.

Drugs are available to treat many forms of malaria but drug resistance is a growing concern, with the World Health Organisation declaring resistance to the most commonly used drug an urgent public health concern.

Researchers from Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute tested the new technique on mice at three different doses, finding all of those treated were cured of malaria.

Even more excitingly, the same mice were reinfected about five months later without being treated again and did not develop the disease again.

“When you start research, you want it to be exciting and you struggle for years and then suddenly the exciting moment happens,” QIMR Berghofer molecular immunology laboratory head Michelle Wykes said.

She hoped the same immunotherapy process would prove to be equally as effective in humans.

The treatment worked by imitating a naturally occurring protein that directed T cells, basically the soldiers in the body’s immune system army, to attack an infection.

Her team found malaria in both humans and mice reduced levels of that protein, PD-L2, meaning the T cells stopped fighting.

“We don’t know how malaria manages to block the production of PD-L2,” she said.

“But once we knew how important this protein was for fighting the disease, we developed a synthetic version of it in the laboratory.”

By introducing the synthetic protein, Dr Wykes said the body continued to fight the infection on its own.

“In terms of understanding the disease, this is a really big find,” she said.

The treatment cured all of the treated mice, she said, but would not reveal how many mice were tested.

Dr Wykes said it was too difficult to give an estimate as to when the treatment could be approved for use on humans.

Researchers from the University of Queensland; Queensland University of Technology; Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research; and Harvard Medical School in the United States all contributed to the study, which was published on Wednesday in the journal Immunity.

Dr Wykes spruiked a promising development in the search for a longer-lasting vaccine for malaria in June.

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